views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Romeo & Juliet
Electrician's Shop
28th May 2014


Guy Woolf and Hayley Adams as Romeo and Juliet

Photography provided by Jackinabox Productions

The Electrician's Shop isn't the easiest fringe venue to get to. It's either a walk from East India along a dual carriageway, or a river taxi from the O2. However, once you get to Trinity Buoy Wharf, the logic behind Jackinabox Productions staging their site-specific Romeo & Juliet in a seemingly remote location suddenly becomes clear. The lack of ordinary footfall helps establish a sense of mystery and intrigue, only enhanced by a blindfolded saxophonist (Sam Elwin) playing melancholic tunes and "police" lining the street. If you make it past all these individuals unhindered, you'll find a secret party going on nearby. And what's more, you're invited.

Romeo & Juliet has - as I've often lamented - been done to death. Director John Askew has taken the story that everyone the world over knows and transferred the initial action to a 1920s speakeasy owned by the Montagues. Whatever your poison, it's for sale - in a jar, of course - and as you wait for the show to start, don't be surprised if a rather uncomfortable Lady Capulet (Judith Quin) strikes up conversation about the area's apparent ill-repute or if one of the bartenders shows you a card trick. With the tale reset in the Prohibition era, a noble prince or law enforcement officer isn't the right person to introduce it, rather it's a female dancer (Anais Alvarado) singing for the clientele and wriggling provocatively. It may not be what Shakespeare had in mind, but it's certainly a bold and refreshing revamp.

Askew has changed some of the characters and cut others - notably the only head of either family to be seen is Lady Capulet, who in this production solely tries to arrange Juliet's marriage to Paris (David William Bryan) and chastises her for her lack of enthusiasm. There's no harsh patriarchal figure. As in more traditional pieces, Askew keeps the Nurse (Jayne Edwards) as a comedy character, but Mercutio (Askew himself) and Friar Laurence (Alex McMorran) also bring a lot of the chuckles.

Askew and McMorran were two of the better actors in a rather disappointing version of The Tempest earlier this year, and it's a pleasure to see them once again shine, but in a show that they can be proud of. Mercutio isn't normally a character who does much until his untimely end, but Askew brings a wonderful energy and joviality to the the part. McMorran makes for a rather unusual and yet perfect Friar, dressed in a crimson smoking jacket, fussing over exotic flowers and delivering many of his lines with a world-weary dryness.

Only selected bits of the productions are immersive, but they're all the right ones. Whether you feel like it or not, you'll soon find yourself happily dancing at the Capulets' gathering, learning the Charleston and becoming so involved that you almost miss Romeo (Guy Woolf) and Juliet (Hayley Adams) stealing a moment together. It's always a challenge to do justice to the first kiss and balcony scene, as those are what everyone is always waiting to see, but they here they both unfold really beautifully.

As well as being interactive, this is a promenade piece, so you will have to move through the different sections of the building. The large ensemble guide us at the crucial moments, making sure no one misses out. The use of space is intelligent, but the one fault is Askew's failure to take account of comfort. With promenade shows, it's typical to have at least a few seats available throughout for those less able to stand, but here only one of the spaces has anywhere to sit, and the audience outnumber the chairs. Inevitably, with the production running for close to three hours, as the play continues, more and more audience members tire and end up on the floor. One minor oversight.

This is an exciting adaptation of Romeo & Juliet which promises more than just a show, but an unforgettable experience. Given the style of the piece and the fact that the cast are nearly 20 in number, it's quite staggering what the company have managed to pull off. The tone is bang on, and plenty of subtle, blink-and-you'll-miss-them touches show that thinking big doesn't mean you have to sacrifice the smaller detail. Dust off your dancing shoes, grab a jar of liquor and get ready for something quite special. With Jackinabox only staging such a short run, time is running out and this is one party you don't want to miss.

Romeo & Juliet ran from 27th to 31st May 2014 at the Electrician's Shop.

Nearest tube station: East India (DLR)

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